Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Last Song Before the War: The Most Remote Music Festival in the World

A couple of weeks ago a friend emailed a group of Mali-centric folks here in DC inviting us to a screening of The Last Song Before the War (trailer above).  Cassie and I had already planned to spend the evening hanging out - what better way to spend time together (since we were already likely going to talk about Mali much of the night) than to see a documentary about a music festival situated in Mali?  
Taking me back to Mali
The documentary follows the preparation for the festival from a few nights before through the four-day (and night) celebration beyond the fabled city of Timbuktu and into the heart of the Sahara desert.  As a bonus, Cheick Hamala Diabate, as well as Supernova King, gave performances to a sold-out (or very nearly!) screening at the Burke Theater in the U.S. Naval Museum near the Archives in Washington, DC following the film.

The crowd was filled with former Peace Corps Volunteers, West African diplomats, Mali-lovers and enthusiasts and I'm sure others who don't quite fit into one of those categories (though I think that likely captures it!).  Cassie, Abdoulaye and I arrived just in time for the show to start and took the handful of open seats remaining in the third row, which were just a few spots over from the Malian ambassador to the US and his crew.
One of my favorites from my trip to Segou
As scenes from the Niger river and dusty roads connecting Mopti to Essakane flashed on the screen before us, I couldn't help but think back to my singular Mali-music festival experience in February 2011 when I attended the Festival sur le Niger.  I stayed with Monica & Samer and soaked up the time with the PHARE staff and the home-y Segou feel while experiencing Malian music in a series of unforgettable shows.  Nostalgia!

The Last Song videographers did a great job of capturing the vibe of the festival (or what I imagine it to be like!) from taking camel rides over sand dunes to having jam sessions on thin, woven mats under hastily pitched tents.  The documentary was filmed in January 2011, just weeks before before I attended the festival in Segou pictured above, and just a year (and some change) before the coup d'etat in Bamako forever changed Mali's political stability, credibility and future.  

I find it's hard to go back to a time in my mind before the coup - though most of my time in Mali was just that.  Today, however, I - along with many Malians - will look forward to Mali's future once again and a time when festivals like the Festival sur le Niger and the Festival in the Desert can once again take place (indicating a more widespread peace that will allow Malians to live with less discord and more harmony).

Today Mali will inaugurate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) as president of the Republic of Mali and usher in what I (and many others) hope to be a new era for a country that holds a special spot in the hearts of many.  Only time will tell what his political regime will look like and how Mali will benefit (or not) from his leadership.  I've heard IBK is a sharp shooter who doesn't take diddly from anyone and who can be harsh (perhaps to a fault?).  I'm hopeful, cautiously optimistic and excited to see what lies in store.  Aid money is about to pour back into Mali - here's hoping it gets to the people of Mali and not just the deep pockets in Bamako.

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